Aboriginal Healing Through Community Building

Efforts to help Aboriginal people regain overall health--whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual--and heal from historical and ongoing trauma need to focus on the self-determination of the Aboriginal community.


Freeman, B., & Lee, B. (2007). Towards An Aboriginal Model of Community Healing. Native Social Work Journal, 6: 97-120. Retrieved from https://zone.biblio.laurentian.ca/dspace/handle/10219/396

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What is this research about?

Aboriginal or Indigenous communities are a web of relationships with family, community and their natural environment. Community is where members learn their identity and develop the knowledge and skills through their Indigenous epistemology (a framework for knowing). However, assimilation policies and colonization have weakened the community structures of North American First Nations people. Genocide, racism, oppression, relocation to reserves and urban areas, as well the prohibition of traditional practices have greatly attributed to the poor mental, emotional, and spiritual health of Aboriginal people. The purpose of this research is to present a community development model to restore the health and well-being of an Aboriginal community. This model includes Aboriginal culture and traditions to rebuild a community that honours Aboriginal knowledge and understanding.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers from McMaster University’s School of Social Work explored the effects of colonization on Aboriginal communities. As a result, they outlined a potential model for Aboriginal communities to consider in rebuilding their communities. This model is based on the concepts and teachings of the medicine wheel, which is an Aboriginal view of healing. The researchers also outlined some potential barriers for practitioners in the area of community development to consider when working with Aboriginal communities.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers’ model includes four areas where Aboriginal community development work could focus. These areas include:

  1. Strengthening the community tradition and culture by collecting, documenting and presenting information about the strength of the community, as well the history and effect of colonization. Community members who possess the traditional teachings and knowledge should be included in the creation of this information.
  2. Considering the significance of the natural environment to Aboriginal communities, it is important for these communities to acquire skills, knowledge and ability to analyze the current state of their community.
  3. Creating culturally appropriate communitybased organizations that work with community Elders and culture carriers to develop culturally centred structures, policies and practices.
  4. Ensuring Aboriginal people are selfdetermining and have control over the policies and institutions that impact their communities.

Some barriers to successful community development include:

  • Colonialism has changed the way of thinking of some members in the Aboriginal community. This may cause some members to resist development in their community.
  • Some members may be unaware of or are scared of traditional Aboriginal ceremonies/ practices, due to the influenced by Western religions and institutions.
  • There is inadequate funding for Aboriginal community initiatives.
  • Fewer and fewer Aboriginal children are fluent in their own Aboriginal language due to the events of colonization.
  • Aboriginal cultural knowledge is at risk of being lost because community Elders are dying, young people are leaving Aboriginal communities, and people in these communities are occupied with basic survival issues.

How can you use this research?

The model presented in this research is useful for community workers, public health professionals, and decision-makers within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Community and Social Services. They can use this model to understand the process of Aboriginal communities healing from past and current traumatic events that resulted because of colonialism. Aboriginal communities can also use this model to define vision and create self-determination from within their community through various levels of social, political, economic and cultural life.

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